Career Information


Reservation and Transportation Ticket Agents and Travel Clerks 

Significant Points:

  • Most jobs are found in large metropolitan airports, downtown ticket offices, large reservation centers, and train or bus stations.
  • A high school diploma or its equivalent is the most common educational requirement.
  • Employment is expected to grow more slowly than average because of the significant impact of technology on worker productivity.
  • Applicants for jobs are likely to encounter considerable competition; those who have previous experience in the travel industry, in sales, or in customer service should have the best chances.

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Nature of the Work [About this section] [To Top]

Each year, millions of Americans travel by plane, train, ship, bus, and automobile. Many of these travelers rely on the services of reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks, who perform functions as varied as selling tickets, confirming reservations, checking baggage, and providing tourists with useful travel information.

Most reservation agents work for large hotel chains or airlines, helping people to plan trips and make reservations. They usually work in large reservation centers, answering telephone or e-mail inquiries and offering suggestions and information about travel arrangements, such as routes, schedules, rates, and types of accommodation. Reservation agents quote fares and room rates, provide travel information, and make and confirm transportation and hotel reservations. Most agents use proprietary networks to obtain, as quickly as possible, information needed to make, change, or cancel reservations for customers.

Transportation ticket agents are sometimes known as passenger service agents, passenger booking clerks, reservation clerks, airport service agents, ticket clerks, or ticket sellers. They work in airports, train stations, and bus stations, selling tickets, assigning seats to passengers, and checking baggage. In addition, they may answer inquiries and give directions, examine passports and visas, or check in pets. They may be required assist customers who have trouble operating self-service ticket printing machines, which also are known as kiosks. Other ticket agents, more commonly known as gate or station agents, work in airport terminals, assisting passengers boarding airplanes. These workers direct passengers to the correct boarding area, check tickets and seat assignments, make boarding announcements, and provide special assistance to young, elderly, or disabled passengers when they board or disembark.

Most travel clerks are employed by membership organizations, such as automobile clubs. These workers, sometimes called member services counselors or travel counselors, plan trips, calculate mileage, and offer travel suggestions, such as the best route from the point of origin to the destination, to club members. Travel clerks also may prepare an itinerary indicating points of interest, restaurants, overnight accommodations, and availability of emergency services during a trip. In some cases, they make rental car, hotel, and restaurant reservations for club members.

Passenger rate clerks generally work for bus companies. They sell tickets for regular bus routes and arrange nonscheduled or chartered trips. They plan travel routes, compute rates, and keep customers informed of appropriate details. They also may arrange travel accommodations.

Working Conditions [About this section] [To Top]

Most reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks work in areas that are clean and well lit. This is especially true for agents who greet customers and visitors in person. Reservation and ticket agents may spend much of their day talking on the telephone; however, they commonly work away from the public, often in large centralized reservation or phone centers. Because a large number of agents or clerks may share the same workspace, it may be crowded and noisy.

Although most reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks work a standard 40-hour week, about 2 out of 10 work part time. Some high school and college students are employed part time in this occupation, working after school or during vacations. Some agents work evenings, late nights, weekends, and holidays. In general, employees with the most seniority tend to be assigned the more desirable shifts.

The work performed by reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks may be repetitive and stressful. They often work under stringent time constraints or must meet quotas on the number of calls answered or reservations made. Difficult or angry customers also can create stressful situations as agents usually bear the brunt of customers' dissatisfaction. Agents may work on their feet for a large portion of their shift, and may have to lift heavy baggage. In addition, prolonged exposure to a computer monitor, which is common in this occupation, may lead to eyestrain.

Training, Other Qualifications,
and Advancement
[About this section] [To Top]

A high school diploma or its equivalent is the most common educational requirement for reservation and transportation ticket agent and travel clerk jobs. Some employers, however, prefer applicants who have completed college coursework in management or business. Experience with computers, including good typing skills, also is usually required. Some jobs require applicants to be over 18 years of age and posses a valid driver's license. Agents who handle passenger luggage must be able to lift heavy objects.

Most airline reservation and ticket agents learn their skills through formal company training programs that can last several weeks. Here, they learn company and industry policies as well as ticketing procedures. Trainees also learn to use the airline's computer system to obtain information on schedules, fares, and the availability of seats; to make reservations for passengers; and to plan passenger itineraries. In addition, they must become familiar with airport and airline code designations, regulations, and safety procedures. After completing classroom instruction, new agents work under the direct guidance of a supervisor or experienced agent. During this time the supervisors may, for example, monitor telephone conversations to improve the quality of customer service so that agents learn to provide customer service in a courteous manner, while limiting the time spent on each call.

In contrast to those who work for airlines, reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks who work for automobile clubs, bus lines, and railroads are trained on the job through short in-house classes that last several days.

Many reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks deal directly with the public, so a professional appearance and a pleasant personality are important. A clear speaking voice and fluency in the English language also are essential, because these employees frequently use the telephone or public-address systems. In addition, fluency in a foreign language is becoming increasingly helpful for those seeking reservation and ticket agent jobs.

Reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks may advance by being transferred to a position with more responsibilities, or by being promoted to a supervisory position. Many travel companies fill supervisory and managerial positions by promoting individuals within their organization, so those who acquire additional skills, experience, and training improve their opportunities for advancement. Some companies require that candidates for supervisory positions have an associate degree in a business-related field, such as management, business administration, or marketing. Within the airline industry, a ticket agent may advance to lead worker on the shift.

Employment [About this section] [To Top]

Reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks held about 163,000 jobs in 2004. About 6 out of 10 are employed by airlines. Others work for automobile clubs, hotels and other lodging places, railroad companies, bus lines, and other companies that provide transportation services.

Although agents and clerks are found throughout the country, most work in large metropolitan airports, downtown ticket offices, large reservation centers, and train or bus stations. The remainder work in small, regional airports, or in small communities served only by intercity bus or railroad lines.

Job Outlook [About this section] [To Top]

Applicants for reservation and transportation ticket agent jobs are likely to encounter considerable competition, because the supply of qualified applicants will exceed the expected number of job openings. Entry requirements for these jobs are minimal, and many people seeking to get into the airline industry or another travel-related business often start out in such positions. The jobs provide excellent travel benefits, and many people view airline and other travel-related jobs as glamorous. Applicants who have previous experience in the travel industry, in sales, or in customer service should have the best chances.

Employment of reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2014. Although a growing population will demand additional travel services, employment of these workers will grow more slowly than this demand because of the significant impact of technology on worker productivity. Automated reservations and ticketing, as well as 'ticketless' travel, for example, are reducing the need for some workers. Most train stations and airports now have self-service ticket printing machines, called kiosks, which enable passengers to make reservations, purchase tickets, and check-in for train rides and flights themselves. Many passengers also are able to check flight times and fares, make reservations, purchase tickets, and check-in for flights on the Internet. Nevertheless, not all travel-related passenger services can be fully automated, primarily for safety and security reasons. As a result, job openings will continue to become available as the occupation grows and as workers transfer to other occupations, retire, or leave the labor force altogether.

Employment of reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks is sensitive to cyclical swings in the economy. During recessions, discretionary passenger travel, and transportation service companies are less likely to hire new workers and may even resort to layoffs.

Earnings [About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

Median annual earnings of reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks in May 2004 were $27,750. The middle 50 percent earned between $21,430 and $39,410. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $17,720, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $45,100. Many employers offer discounts on travel services to their employees. In May 2004, median annual earnings in the industries employing the larges number of agents were:

Scheduled air transportation $31,750
Travel arrangement and reservation services 22,370
Traveler accommodation 22,050

[Please note that the earnings and salary data listed here is usually from government sources and may be dated, so please make adjustments accordingly. If you would like to access current salary data for literally thousands of occupations, access our Salary Wizard.]



Related Occupations [About this section] [To Top]

Other occupations that provide travel-related services include hotel, motel, and resort desk clerks; travel agents; and flight attendants. Other occupations that make sales and provide information to customers include counter and rental clerks, order clerks, customer service representatives, and receptionists and information clerks.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section] [To Top]

For information about job opportunities as reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks, write to the personnel manager of individual transportation companies. Addresses of airlines are available from:

  • Air Transport Association of America, 1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW., Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20004-1707.

*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.




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